Friday, December 30, 2011

Linens For The New Year

Having lately received word that we are to expect a houseguest next summer, only several weeks before the autumnal Colonial Trade Faire, and that this guest will of course want to accompany us to that interesting event, but, alas, has no suitable clothing, my spare time of late has been employed to ensure that this esteemed personage will have proper attire.

The work baskets and drawers have been emptied to turn up any spare bits of soft linen and I think that although the resultant garments are by no means fancy, the recipient, it is to be hoped, shall not mind their plainness at all.

No one has claimed to have seen this person, although rumour has reached us that we are to expect a person rather smaller than not, and with less than the common amount of hair. It has also been speculated that due to circumstances beyond their control, this person shall arrive in nothing but, alas, their own skin. It is only charitable that we should extend the hand of kindness and provide this poor creature with adequate clothing, food and a comfortable room of its own, to stay in as long as it should find itself in need of hospitality.

I flatter myself that the kind hand of Providence has smiled upon us and that our future shall be bright with this person numbered amongst our household. For all that Providence sends is for our benefit and good, and His blessings flow richly with each angel He sends among us, unawares.


Monday, December 26, 2011

1840's Christmas Dress!

Greetings one and all! I do hope you all had a very pleasant Christmas. We enjoyed the company of extended family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the little fellows were hit with a deluge of gifts that has left them with several meltdowns, a few mini-wars, but also many happy hours of play. I cannot step anywhere without coming across toy guns, foam darts from a nerf crossbow (and more foam darts from the toy pump shotgun), cars, tractors, trains and puzzles, cowboys and horses, construction site toys, crayons, coloring book pages and lots and lots of candy wrappers.

We had, as usual, far too much food. I think it will take us a week to eat all the leftovers as well as a week to get the house back in order. But the chaos is a happy and comfortable after-Christmas kind of chaos. It is fun to lounge about, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate and not feeling like you have to get anything done.

I did put on my Christmas dress today and braved the frigid wind to take a few photos. I literally finished this dress the day before Christmas (sewing on the hooks) and finished the bonnet this afternoon. I am super happy with how this came out and although I have no idea where I will wear this, I am determined to hunt up at least one or two 40's-era events that I can attend next year so the dress can get some use. I'd even be ecstatic to find a semi-local Dickens fair that I could go to. So here, in no particular order, are a few of the pictures we got:

Or I could just wear it whenever the fancy strikes, as I have done in the past with other historic frocks, and leisurely do my grocery shopping in corded petti and plaid wool shawl. It is ridiculously fun to get shocked looks from people. It's even more fun to dress historic and go on a fun cemetery traipse and see cars slow down and stare as you soberly walk among the grave stones. 

One week til the New Year! Have a fantastic remainder of 2011!


Friday, December 16, 2011

1840's Bonnet

Well, David's 1840's outfit is NOT going to be done by Christmas. I did try. I made his trousers this week like I wanted to but it seemed every single thing I attempted to do with those trousers, whether it was threading a needle, winding a bobbin or cutting out a pattern piece, I had to do over at least once. It seems I am Cursed in the 1840's. So anyway, the trousers are done but I am not going to tempt fate and rush myself getting a waistcoat and tailcoat done before next weekend. I want these to be very nice, and if by rushing I will end up with a less than satisfactory product, well, it's not worth it. So he is just going to wear his black frock suit and be 1850's. I won't feel "right" being in a different decade, fashion wise, than he but as he told me, most people won't know the difference anyway.

So I have been working on my 1840's bonnet instead. It is coming along annoyingly slow. Like I did with my dress, I stop after every stitch I take, it seems, and recheck something. After studying the plates, paintings, portraits and original bonnets I could find online I cut the basic shape out of paper and then cut it in buckram, and reinforced the edges with wire and added a layer of cotton batting to soften the buckram form before I put the silk on it.

I was happy with it at first. I liked the shape and thought it was representative of the 40's. (I am definitely no milliner). But then I began to wonder about the shape of face edge. It seemed to me that the area of the brim that goes over the face juts out farther at cheek level than it does above my head. I didn't know if that was correct or not.

I pieced in a little piece of buckram at the top of the bonnet, to see if that gave a better shape. One where the jutting-out-over-the-face factor was about the same at cheek level and forehead level.

I don't know if it really makes much difference, or if it matters at all. I feel like my nerves are tensioned way high and I wish I could just relax. It's just a stupid bonnet. But still, I want it to look right. I don't know. I keep waiting and thinking but if I don't just cover the darn thing and call it good I won't have any bonnet to wear with my dress on Christmas!

In the meanwhile we are crazy busy getting ready for Christmas. We have been cooking, decorating, making gingerbread houses, working on secret homemade gifts, eating way too many sweets and staying up late at night watching movies.

We were going to get a family photo taken for Christmas this year (a professional one!) but decided that, after all, the $10 fee with the coupon was just not worth it. The horrors of our last attempt at a professional family photo loomed up before us and we knew the procedure would be painful rather than pleasant. So once more we decided to take our own instead. I took some of the boys today so we can get them printed and sent to grandparents. Here are my three little men:

They are growing up quite handsomely, I do think. It's hard to believe they are not babies anymore.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

1840's Dress Progress - The Light At The End of the Tunnel

The sleeves are in, the skirt is gauged and whipped on and all that remains to do is hemming the skirt and adding hooks and eyes for the back closure. 

It is almost done. And I have two weeks until Christmas! I am feeling very virtuous and prepared. 

I had six yards of fabric to work with and I figured that would be plenty. After ripping my skirt panels, however, I was frustrated to find I had a very small amount of fabric left to make my sleeves. I had my heart set on slim fitting bias cut sleeves but it wasn't possible to lay out the sleeve pattern on the fabric and have them fit without piecing the sleeves. I ended up using the sleeve pattern from the 1839-1845 dress from Patterns of Fashion 1, which is cut with a curve at the elbow. The way I had to lay the pattern out, I ended up with sleeves that are straight grain on the top and biasy below the elbow. It's not exactly what I wanted, but it worked. The sleeves are each pieced in five places. I was barely able to scrape out enough fabric to match the stripey pattern for piecing on the visible part of the sleeve. The stripes do NOT match on the underside of the sleeve but if I restrain myself from waving my arms about in the air no one will ever know of the mis-matched pattern there. 

From the tiniest bits of scraps left over I was able to eek out enough bias strips for piping for the sleeves. Every seam on the bodice and the long seams and hem on the sleeves are piped. The skirts come to just above my toes and the bodice fits. Very snugly. But it fits.  

Of course, now that I have *two whole weeks left* I am diving in to making David an 1840's outfit to wear on Christmas too. Fall front trousers, a shawl collar waistcoat and a tailcoat. I think he will look very handsome in the 40's. I know hardly anything about mens 1840's wear but the best way to learn is to just do it, right? 


Thursday, December 8, 2011

1840's Dress Progress - Kinda

So far this week I have spent a little time each day working on the bodice of the 1840's dress. And I am still not done with the bodice. For me, who used to be able to whip up a complete 1860's dress in a day, piping, hand finishing and all, this is discouraging.
It seems at every turn I have to re-evaluate something, recheck something, do some more research. Maybe it's because I'm so unsure of myself. This is a new fashion era for me and I lack confidence to go boldly ahead and cut and sew. The 1840's has created a Meek and Mincing Sarah Jane.
For one thing, the fitting method completely took over my mind these past few days. The way the material between the neckline and waist was treated caused me a great deal of frustration. How to get that tidy, neat fit? (and I am deliberately excluding fan-fronts from my mind since those are a whole different style - the look I want is the molded, tidy, wrinkle-free rigid torso look).
It seemed there were two ways of doing this. One way fitted the bodice with darts and another way fitted the bodice with princess seams. I found evidence of both methods used in the 40's. So, okay.
But then, there was variation among those options. You could fit a bodice with 1 dart on each side, like the 1837-1841 morning dress on page 65 in Patterns of Fashion 1, or  you could fit a bodice with two darts to each side, like this one:
You could fit a bodice with princess seams. The first image I found that showed clear princess seams was the right-center dress in this plate, which shows princess seams going from the neckline to the waist. I posted this one last week. 
Then a few highly respected costumers suggested to me the Jean Hunnisett patterns for 1840's bodices as excellent starting points. The pattern for a princess seam bodice from the patterns in this book calls for princess seams going from the front armscye to the waist. I decided to go with that. Here you can see my first mock up, with the pins indicating where the new seam line will be.
Then I came across this picture which clearly shows a bodice fitted with princess seams that go from the shoulder seam to the waist (this is the same style as my gray ballgown bodice; the pattern for which I am using as a base for the 40's dress).
Another interesting thing about the above picture is that there is no center seam in the bodice, and it doesn't appear as though the front seams are piped!
And I thought piping was ALWAYS used on 40's dresses!
Then I looked more at my inspiration dress image and realized with a jolt that yes, it looks like this bodice is also fitted with princess seams that go from the shoulder to the waist! Look at how the stripey pattern gets chopped off as it nears the shoulder. . .it definitely looks like there is a seam there.
And this late 30's dress from Costume in Detail has the same kind of princess seams (and just the beginning of a pointed front bodice!)
But at this point I had already cut out my bodice with the princess seams going from armscye to waist.
Grrr. Frustrating. I have spent the last few days wondering if what I have chosen to do with my dress will even be remotely 40's-ish. . .because every time I think I know something, something new pops up and throws my theories into the water. This is why we "never say never" in historic costuming, right?
So that is why my bodice has been coming along slowly. At least with the sleeves and skirt I know pretty much exactly what I am going to do. A tight, bias cut sleeve and a plain old rectangular construction gauged and faced skirt. Easy, right? We'll see.
Here is my mock up of the 1860's ball gown pattern. This is 60's in style, so I knew I'd have to modify it a little for a 40's look. Going off the Jean Hunnisett pattern as a guide, I cut a new seamline that went from the armscye to the waist. I also trimmed down the neckline a bit. I only did one mock up of the bodice, since it seemed to work pretty well just as it was. There are wrinkles in the mock up along the seams but I think that was mostly due to the cheapy poly/cotton thin fabric I was using for a mock up. The semi-finished bodice doesn't wrinkle up much at all on me.
Here is the first try on of the bodice in the fabric I'm using. Not too bad, but I did change a few things. The black lines (sorry they are hard to see!) on the viewers left indicate where I made some changes. First, I cut down the neckline to get more of a horizontal line from shoulder to shoulder. I also trimmed the front armscye since it was cutting into my arm and making a wrinkle under the armpit. I also refined the curve of the front point so it would match, more or less, the bias stripes on the center front. I wish now I had only cut down the sides of the neckline, not the center. : / 
I also had to redo the back almost completely. . .for some reason the upper back was WAY too wide and the neckline way too gappy. I don't know why since I used the same pattern for my ballgown and it came out fine. Weird. I cut down the straps on the back bodice and that snugged the armscye up too much, so I had to recut the back armscye. I cut my side back pieces on the bias at first but it looked funky so I ended up ripping them out and recutting and sewing side back pieces on the straight.
Then as I sewed and tried on, and sewed and tried on, the bodice seemed to significantly shrink in size. This alarmed me and the only reason I can think of for this is the fact that all the piped seams are very thick and heavy. Grading the seams and even pressing them open didn't seem to help much. They just take up more surface space so I have less room to fit my body into. Tightening up the stays a tad helped, but I am going to have VERY little overlap at the back opening by the time all is said and done!
I think the main bodice is finally done, though. I piped the waistline this morning. I still need to pipe the armscye and make and set in the sleeves but after that, it appears to be smooth sailing.
And here is a picture of the extra material draped up on the petticoats, so I can get an idea of how the bodice will look once the skirt is made and attached.

Monday, December 5, 2011

1840's Undergarments and ~ New Dishes ~ !

Woo hoo! 1840's undergarments are DONE!
And isn't this cup and saucer adorable? I have always wanted some like this but we have a plain brown stoneware set that works perfectly well for our humble living. However, we went to Goodwill yesterday (I was looking for a slinky 30's-ish looking evening gown) and David came across these lovely dishes while I desperately tried to wiggle into a sea-foam green stretchy slinky dress with a draped front and huge rhinestone brooch. We came home with the dishes, but not the dress. (it revealed every bump and wrinkle. Definitely not for the post-baby, jiggly flesh type of body). Only $8 for 8 cups and saucers, a large serving bowl and a divided bowl. I just love them. So pretty.
I finished my corded petticoat over the weekend and whipped up a new bum pad last night. This bum pad is made from the pattern included with the 1850's dress in Simplicity 3727. It's bigger than my last bum pad, since the shape of it goes around the hips so you get side fullness as well as back fullness. It's made from a cut down cotton sheet and I DID get to sew this sheet material on the machine. ; )
I found it fascinating how the layers interact with each other to give the final shape, so here are probably more pictures than you want to see, but it shows how each item is necessary for the final look and how the corded petticoat REALLY helps give the right shape while eliminating all but one plain petticoat.
As you remember, I decided to wear my regency long stays for this dress instead of my 1860's corset. The 1860's corset gives a curvier shape with a curvy, lower bustline. The stays give more of a straight, upright look to the torso and I loosened the laces holding the straps so the bust can sit a *tad* lower than it does for my regency gowns. I know it's not perfect for the 40's, but it works and it saves me the time and trouble of making a new corset for a dress I will probably only wear a few times. I'm also using my regency shift as I think it is more accurate for the early 40's than my Civil War era chemises. Here is the look with just one plain petticoat. As you can see it is pretty limp and straight looking, even though the petticoat by itself has a lot of body and is fairly stiff.
Next we add the bum pad. Poof! Instant Big Butt.
Nice hip fullness from the front. There is a definite "spring" of the skirts from the waist, instead of a droopy look.
Here is the corded petticoat! (excuse the fact I look like some sort of female Mr. Tumnus with my ear sticking out of my hair). I cannot say how happy I am with how this came out. The size is just right for me and I am so pleased with the shape and support it gives. And this is with no starch; nothing. This is just how it came out after the cord was sewn in. I'm glad because I hate starching things and it takes sooooo long to do.
Here is the final shape with the bum pad, the corded petticoat and the plain petticoat. From the back.
From the side.
And from the front. I think we're ready to move on to the dress now!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Corded Petticoat, A Pre-Hoop Skirt Support

The cage, or hooped skirt came into fashionable popularity in the late 1850's. However, the full skirted silhouette was popular for several decades before then. Here is a good example of the skirt silhouette I am going for. A nice domed skirt shape with lots of hip fullness and a definite back thrust with a relatively flat front.  

Pre-hoop women achieved the lofty skirts by wearing multiple petticoats, that could be plain, tucked, flounced, quilted or corded and very probably heavily starched. For me, this presents the problem of multiple waistbands all at the same point on my waist, making it look much larger and thicker. WAIST BULK! Sigh. And what will all those waistbands do to the nice flat pointed front of the bodice? I don't want to have to wear all the petticoats I have with my 1840's dress, so I hope to eliminate the need for a few of them by making a new corded petticoat. I'm hoping a corded petticoat, with one or two plain petticoats on top of that, will be sufficient. 

The corded petticoat of the mid-19th century came in several styles. One style is the lightweight petticoat skirt with dozens and dozens of rows of small, light cording woven in to the fabric itself. For this style, you could purchase the fabric with the cording already woven in. To replicate this style today, unless you can find some corded fabric to use, the modern seamstress must sew these thin cords in one by one. A famous costumers example can be found HERE

Another style is the corded petti with thicker cords sewn in. These cords are less numerous than the cording found on the tiny-cord style of petticoat. This example is approximately from the 1840's. A lady could make this style at home, then and now, by sewing cords into tucks in a plain petticoat. 

Back when I started reenacting a corded petticoat was the superly-awesome-authentic thing to have. Since then, research has showed that after the advent of The Hoop, the corded petticoat faded in oblivion and were not commonly worn by the time of the Civil War. But that wasn't the prevailing thought away back then. So I made two corded petticoats. One with tiny cords and one with thicker cords. 

Here we see the 18-year old Sarah Jane of 2004 with her very first corded petticoat. This one was made 90" around the hem and featured 8 rows of thick cord. It folded in on itself somewhat, and was slightly heavy, but it did give a nice pouf to my skirts. In this picture I am wearing (if I can remember correctly) the corded petticoat with only one plain petticoat over that. And that is my handsome Dad, and my first attempts at men's clothing of the 1860's. :) 

Here is the pregnant-with-Malachi Sarah Jane of 2008 (I didn't know I was pregnant yet though!) wearing her second version of the corded petticoat. This one had many more rows of tiny cotton crochet yarn instead of the larger thick rope-like cord. This petticoat was always kind of blah, for me. It did help the skirts stand out a little. But not as much as the other corded petti. I got just as much loft wearing an extra plain petticoat. 

I ended up giving one of my corded pettis to a friend. I sold the other one when I found out it wasn't accurate to my impression. 

But now, I find myself with a legitimate use for a corded petticoat. For this one, I am going with the thicker cords. I am using a tightly woven 100% cotton sheet for the petticoat itself and cotton clothesline for the cords. I think the cord is actually a poly inner strand covered with the braided cotton cord. But I honestly don't care about the little bit of un-seen poly. It is stiff and tightly braided and works like a dream. The cord is about 1/4" in diameter. The petticoat will have 16 rows. 

What totally stinketh about this particular petticoat are the facts that 1) The fabric is VERY tightly woven and 2) my mother in law's sewing machine, which I am currently using, doesn't have a zip foot attachment and so I have to sew all these rows in by hand. It is painful. So far I have 8 rows of cording sewn in. 8 more to go. I hope my fingers aren't raw and bleeding by then. 

I also am making this petticoat much narrower than my previous attempts. My last ones have been about 90" around the hem but that width just seemed to collapse in on itself. This one is only 75" around the hem. It will come to mid calf and already, with just the 8 rows sewn in, I can see that this is going to keep it's shape very well, even without starch. No folding, no creasing. It is almost like a mini hoop skirt. :) 

So, with this and a new bum pad I hope my skirts will look right. Then it will be on to the dress!